I just received notice that my employer’s annual charity campaign is about to gear up. Each employee is encouraged to help our fellow citizens by ponying up, and by doing so en masse at work, we help charities lessen the cost of soliciting funds. It’s a great idea in theory.
But I don’t like it.
For one thing, I already give to my community every day just by showing up to work. I give up personal time. My writing, the thing I enjoy most in this world, waits for me on the back burner. My pets get whatever energy is left in me after a stressful day. But that’s not enough. Now they want my money too?
Wait, before you tell me how ridiculously selfish that sounds, consider this.
My employer will earn all sorts of goodwill for the agency by promoting the charitable contributions of its employees. Goodwill is an intangible asset that creates value for a business or agency. It’s a way to put a dollar figure on the positive feelings you have toward my employer. And who fronts the cost for creating those good feelings you have? Me and my fellow workers.
Companies and agencies play this game all the time. It’s why all those pet product start-up companies tell you they donate a portion of their profits to animal welfare charities. To be clear, what they’re really doing is charging you a little more to create a good vibe for their product. The only thing they actually do is write a check.
One of the most successful- and popular- is PetSmart Charities. PetSmart Charities does some amazing things for animal welfare while at the same time giving you a warm, fuzzy feeling for the PetSmart company.
And they do it all with your money. Pretty neat, huh?
The best part is you won’t think twice about PetSmart selling animals, or worry when you hear stories of store employees harming animals. You dismiss it as isolated, because PetSmart does so much good.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no beef with PetSmart Charities or with those that choose to give to them. I’m simply pointing out that your donation to PetSmart Charities benefits PetSmart the company.
If you truly want to make a difference for animals, I encourage you to do your homework. Believe spay/neuter helps reduce the number of unwanted pets? Then donate to your local low-cost spay/neuter program. Have more grand ideas? Then check out the agency you have in mind on Charity Navigator. Alternatively, go to the group’s website and look at their financials. If they’re not posting them, that should be your first red flag.
To be sure, joining with others in donating to large non-profits gives you a louder collective voice for your cause. Just make sure you’re going in with your eyes open and you’re OK with where the money is going.
One of the best articles I’ve run across lately is Phil DeMuth’s Please Don’t Give to Charity, But if You Must… in last December’s Forbes Magazine. Don’t let the title turn you off; there’s some good info in that article. I highly recommend all charity-givers read it.
As for me, I’ll pass on the workplace charity drive. My co-workers may see me as cold and uncaring, but I don’t think where I choose to donate my money is any of my employer’s business.